Williams tabbed to win fourth Player of the Year honor
To the surprise of absolutely nobody who has watched Horizon League women’s basketball over the past few seasons, three-time HL Player of the Year Macee Williams has been picked by the HoriZone Roundtable staff to win the award for the fourth time. Milwaukee’s Megan Walstad, Oakland’s Kahlaijah Dean, Northern Kentucky’s Lindsey Duvall, and Youngstown State’s Chelsea Olson round out HoriZone Roundtable’s preseason all-conference first team.
The fifteen players selected across three teams, for the most part, are a veteran-heavy group with many picks being about as obvious as Williams; seven were on the 2020-21 postseason all-conference teams, while three others (Cleveland State’s Destiny Leo, Robert Morris’ Sol Castro, and UIC’s Jaida McCloud) graduated from last year’s all-freshman team. The remaining five players include conference newcomer Madison Wise, who transferred from Iowa State to IUPUI, as well as others projected to have expanded roles on rebuilding or reloading teams like Wright State’s Shamarre Hale and Green Bay’s Sydney Levy.
Conference favorite IUPUI led the way with three players selected (Williams, Wise, Rachel McLimore), while Oakland (Dean, Alona Blackwell), Northern Kentucky (Duvall, Ivy Turner), and Green Bay (Levy, Jasmine Kondrakiewicz) were each represented by a pair of players. Detroit Mercy and Purdue Fort Wayne, both of which are projected to finish towards the bottom of the standings this season, were the only two teams without a player chosen.
|First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
|* Macee Williams|
F/C, IUPUI (Gr.)
G, Cleveland State (So.)
F, Green Bay (Fr.)
F, Milwaukee (So.)
G/F, IUPUI (Sr.)
G, Green Bay (Jr.)
G, Oakland (Sr.)
G/F, UIC (So.)
F, Robert Morris (So.)
G, Northern Kentucky (Sr.)
G/F, IUPUI (Gr.)
G, Oakland (Jr.)
G, Youngstown State (Sr.)
G, Northern Kentucky (Jr.)
F, Wright State (Jr.)
|* HoriZone Roundtable Player of the Year|
Macee Williams is the three-time Horizon League Player of the Year, making one of the conference’s best players ever a pretty safe and obvious call to sit at the top of the list yet again (though, in something of a surprise, she wasn’t a unanimous pick). Williams is still improving too; her stats from 2020-21 were an entire role player better than her stats from her first PoY campaign in 2018-19. It’s possible that she takes a minor hit in that department this year with IUPUI developing a classic “there’s only one basketball” problem, but she’s still the engine that drives a powerhouse Jags team.
On some level, Megan Walstad is here as a representative of her program and its tough but well-rounded defense-first ethos, and the efficient team game that philosophy requires. Walstad, however, is the headliner as a legitimate big at 6-2, but one who can also do things like shoot 30 percent from three, 50 percent from the floor, and 90 percent from the line (the latter being a big part of the Panthers’ NCAA-record team effort in that category). Oh yeah, and she was also the conference’s third-best rebounder last year behind only Williams and departed teammate Brandi Bisping. Milwaukee has reloaded well and is primed for a title run, so Walstad should flourish.
Kahlaijah Dean is as talented as anyone in the league, even to the point of possibly playing her way into Player of the Year contention, should Oakland make a surprise run (and the Golden Grizzlies have the talent to do just that). Her 17.2 points per game were good for fifth in the league, second to Williams among returning players and she offered 4.4 dimes as well. One area where she’s truly elite, however, is the ability to draw fouls – she was a top 50 player nationally in both free throws attempted and free throws made, so she’ll get the opposing stars in foul trouble and cash in the easy points as well.
Lindsey Duvall, a former Louisville player, arrived in Highland Heights last season and immediately became one of the conference’s best players. She buoyed a Northern Kentucky team through a COVID-riddled season with 17 points and 8 boards per game, and she’s the major reason why the Norse have their eyes on the top of the league. Her strength is… well, pretty much everything. After all, she was once a five-star prospect, the 17th best player in her class (per espnW) and Kentucky’s Miss Basketball, and she’s now rediscovering her full arsenal after two years of limited action with the Cardinals. That’s pretty scary if you’re not NKU.
Chelsea Olson might not be Player of the Year, but she does have a case to be the most valuable player. On a retooled Penguins roster that has a load of intriguing, high-upside newcomers, Olson remains the constant and will be relied on as a leader. She led YSU in minutes last season,has been good for 10-12 points throughout her career, and can knock down a big three, but where Olson truly excels is in the less glamorous parts of the game. She led the conference in assists last season (and in 2018-19 as well) and is one of the better defenders out there as well.
Reigning Horizon League Sixth Player of the Year Destiny Leo is likely going to be counted on to be far more than that for Cleveland State this year, given the Mariah White-sized hole at the top of the stat sheet. The good news for the Vikings is that our voters consider her to be more than up to the task. The Eastlake North High School grad is one of the conference’s best shooters, as she knocked down 2.1 three pointers per game at a 38.2 percent clip and also connected on 85 percent of her free throws. However, at 5-10 she’s also big and versatile enough to offer a commanding wing presence and drive the ball.
Rachel McLimore has sort of been Ms. Outside to Williams’ Ms. Inside for IUPUI and is certainly a more-than-worthy compliment. And while the one-time transfer from DePaul is a superb shooter (38.5 percent from three, 44.3 percent from the floor overall), she offers so much more than that. She was a member of the Horizon League’s All-Defensive Team last year accounting for 1.6 win shares for the Jags just on that end of the floor, and her ball control metrics are outstanding as well. As with Williams, it remains to be seen what IUPUI becoming even more talented will do to McLimore’s stats, but what she offers is useful anywhere.
On a UIC team that didn’t have a fantastic 2020-21, Jaida McCloud stood out as a major bright spot for the Flames with a 13.9/6.6 line. She’s a physical freak that has the skill and quickness to play as a wing, but also tremendous length and finishing ability that allows her to excel underneath. It was that latter set of attributes that became important for a Flames team where McCloud’s height (6-1) made her the co-tallest player on the roster. With newcomers Leah Yarbrough and Isabel Gonzalez possibly taking that pressure away, look for McCloud to flex her versatility a bit more.
In a classic case of some teams having all of the luck, Madison Wise dropped into IUPUI’s lap when she elected to play a final year of college basketball and do so close to home and her family, thanks in part to IUPUI offering the master’s in organizational leadership that undergrad school Iowa State didn’t. Wise averaged 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds during her career in the Big 12 and made two trips to the NCAA Tournament, notably scoring 13 points in a first-round win over Michigan State back in March. Wise has been where the Jags want to go, and she’ll undoubtedly emerge as one of the team’s leaders and top contributors.
It’s pretty easy to write Ivy Turner off in some ways. She’s 5-4, often the smallest player on the floor, and sometimes reads as a shooting specialist, just one that happens to play most of the time. And yet, she just keeps producing and improving. She was a member of the All-Freshman Team in 2019-20, then jumped to the All-Conference Third Team last season after pumping up her three-point rate from 33.8 percent to 36.2 percent, and her scoring average from 8.8 to 11.2. Our staff thinks she has a similar leap in her this season, which could make all the difference for an NKU team looking to take the next step.
Jasmine Kondrakiewicz is one of the players who stands to benefit the most from the mild degree of turnover at Green Bay, where the departures of Caitlyn Hibner and Lyndsey Robson left Kondrakiewicz, Sydney Levy (we’ll get to her in a second), and Hailey Oskey as the three leading scorers among returning players. What makes Kondrakiewicz a little bit different is that she earned her numbers more efficiently than the other two and seemingly has more upside for what is sure to be an expanded role. Her game is similar to McCloud’s in that she has the ability to be a productive post player while also offering surprising range.
A former Milwaukee Panther who defected to archrival Green Bay, Sydney Levy re-emerged last season as a key secondary option for the Phoenix and will be among the core group counted on to transfer the program’s famed cultural continuity to an outstanding group of freshmen. She’s an effective sniper who shot nearly 40 percent from three last season and manages to ball hawk a surprising number of rebounds (4.1 per game). Levy’s defensive metrics are also very solid, and she typically stays away from fouling. Basically, she’s a Phoenix, and another strong season seems in order.
Although Robert Morris struggled during its Horizon League introduction, Sol Castro certainly didn’t. The big Argentinian, who has earned some national team duty, was one of the conference’s breakout stars in 2020-21. She became the first Colonials freshman to lead the team in scoring in 20 years, and she also led RMU in rebounds. Castro seems to have an extra gear when the competition ramps up, as evidenced by her series against Wright State last season where she poured in 43 points over the two games on 16-of-30 from the floor. With a heavily-turned-over roster in Moon Township, Castro making that extra gear her baseline is likely a must if RMU is to make a move towards the middle of the standings.
While Dean gets most of the attention on Oakland’s roster, Alona Blackwell is arguably the player who will determine whether the Grizzlies are able to turn into a team that has something to say in March at the conference tournament. Blackwell’s calling card is her shot, which tends to be streaky at times, but when she’s on, she can knock them down with anyone. However, more and more, she relies on her outstanding body control and driving ability – and she knows how to make defenders freeze trying to process the possibility of either attack. Blackwell saw her importance to Jeff Tungate grow last season and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue.
Shamarre Hale might be seen as something of an off-the-map selection, but it’s one that can be supported. There are the broad circumstances, of course: Wright State lost its entire coaching staff, as well as Tyler Frierson and Emani Jefferson, to Memphis, while Angel Baker headed to Ole Miss. Meanwhile, Kari Hoffman’s late hire and the slow recruiting that resulted likely means expanded roles for returners, with Hale poised to benefit significantly. Her efficiency rating last year was elite, better than Baker’s, thanks to her shooting 59 percent from the floor and averaging 5.4 and 5.4 in just 16 minutes. A small sample? Sure. But then again, she was even better in 2019-20 (8.0 on 62 percent shooting and 7.7 boards in 16.5 minutes).
Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Cleveland State • Wright State • Milwaukee • Detroit Mercy
Northern Kentucky • Oakland • Purdue Fort Wayne • Youngstown State
UIC • Robert Morris • Green Bay • IUPUI
Green Bay (WBB) • Cleveland State (WBB)